Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Park Foundation president objects to animal shelter at Sunset Hill site

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Parks Foundation officially renewed its participation in the Conservation Reserve Program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture three months ago which may make it difficult for the County Board of Commissioners to fulfill their aspirations of building the new Animal Shelter on Foundation land at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

Foundation President Dave Yeager said his group agreed to the renewal, good for 10 years, before they heard of the Commissioners’ intentions, which were announced at the Aug. 20 Commissioner meeting.

Being in the CRP program is one way the Foundation receives its income, a little more than $3,070 per year, Yeager said, for its 18.6 acres spread out on two parcels along U.S. 6 at Sunset Hill Farm.

According to the USDA’s website, landowners enrolled in a CRP program receive rental payments from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) agreeing to set farmland aside for environmental conservation.

Yeager said building the animal shelter on Foundation land would not be appropriate use of the land according to the agreement.

The Foundation does have the option of relinquishing part of the land out of the CRP program but Yeager sees that as problematic for the organization which would have to give back the rental money plus interest costs.

Yeager did say the Foundation allowed for an easement to build new water and sewer lines that would allow the nearby Porter Regional Hospital to receive the services in order to be “good public partners”, but it also benefited the park to have a new water supply as the old system contained traces of e-coli.

However, Yeager said he is opposed to an animal shelter because it would “take away” park land.

“We (the Foundation) want it to be left as a park. An animal shelter does not belong there,” he said.

Yeager said he sees other problems with having the new shelter at the park location, affecting the neighbors of Tanner Trace subdivision, who would have to deal with the noise of barking dogs as well as increased traffic on U.S. 6. Such objections were voiced by a few neighbors at last week’s County Parks Board meeting.

One more reason for opposition Yeager mentioned is that a shelter could also cause revocation of the Foundation’s status as a non-profit organization.

“It’s opening a can of worms,” he said.

The Parks Foundation will have a public meeting to discuss the issue next Thursday at 2 p.m. in the County Administration Center.

County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the she had heard of the Foundation’s CRP agreement terms were about to expire but was not aware the group renewed it for another 10 years.

“It came as bit of a surprise,” she said.

Blaney said that the commissioners only wanted to open discussions with the Parks Foundation, not do a “hostile takeover.”

The land at Sunset Hill Farm was seen as a possibility by the Commissioners under the recommendations of the consulting group Shelter Planners of American who said the new shelter should be built somewhere that had great visibility and public accessibility in a central location, Blaney said.

Having the Shelter there would also mean more chances to partner with the parks department on educational programs, she said. “The synergy would be fantastic.”

The Commissioners paid Shelter Planners $6,500 to do the study and it wouldn’t make sense not follow the advice, she added, but the Commissioners are considering other options to locate the shelter such as the Ind. 130 and Ind. 149 intersection or another spot at Sunset Hill Farm.

“We’re open to any new ideas as long as it’s a location that has high visibility and accessibility,” Blaney said.

 

Posted 9/12/2013